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Author: Subject: Early chemists obtaining their reagents from nature.
DDbiology2010
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Early chemists obtaining their reagents from nature.

Does anyone know of some books or resources that show you how to obtain reagents from nature. For instance, how did early chemists obtain their chemicals for their chemical reactions. Today, people just buy the chemicals from others. How do you start from scratch. Also, a book on how to build chemical glassware from scratch would be awesome too. Thanks.
bbartlog
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<i>books or resources that show you how to obtain reagents from nature. For instance, how did early chemists obtain their chemicals for their chemical reactions</i>

While at first blush it might seem that your best approach to obtaining reagents from nature is to imitate the alchemists or perhaps the 18th and 19th century industrial chemists that came after them, this is almost always impractical. First of all, their approaches were often risky by modern standards (look at the historical record of death and illness in the production of mercury and phosphorus, for example). Second, while their facilities may have been techonologically primitive, it doesn't follow that they are easy to reproduce as some sort of backyard project. Third, the extant descriptions often omit enough details that you would end up needing to do extensive experimentation and tinkering.
In short you are asking two different questions here even though you make it sound like one. If you want to obtain reagents from nature yourself for some reason, then you will probably want to use some modern method. If you want to replicate the work of the early chemists, you can, but don't think that this is a practical method for reagent acquisition.
As for the glassware, also possible... but how about one thing at a time? If there is some particular compound you want to obtain 'from nature' maybe you could focus on that. The feasibility seems like very much a case by case thing.
DDbiology2010
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I would love to use modern methods in creating reagents for reactions. However, I don't want to have to buy my chemicals from a supply company. For example, a reaction to make HCl acid requires sulfuric acid and salt. Well, I know I can obtain salt in a natural form, but how do I obtain sulfuric acid from nature. I'm sure there is a reaction from naturally occurring reagents to make sulfuric acid, because companies make sulfuric acid all the time. Basically, I want to know how to obtain reagents starting from reactions that use naturally occurring substances, and of course I want to use modern methods. It's a whole lot safer
Picric-A
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Companies make H2SO4 from naturally occuring materials indeed, specifically water, air and sulphur.
HOWEVER they use billion pound factories, expencive catalysts and harsh conditions, hard to reach in a lab (let alone a backyard!!)
Get sulphuric acid from batteries if all else fails, or order it as a drain unblocker. you dont have to order from chemical supply companies, you just gotta know were to look!
Magpie
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 Quote: Originally posted by Picric-A you dont have to order from chemical supply companies, you just gotta know were to look!

One of the best places to look is this forum:
http://www.sciencemadness.org/talk/viewthread.php?tid=4800&a...

Also see the Readily Available Chemicals thread by I am a Fish.

And don't forget the search engine.

The single most important condition for a successful synthesis is good mixing - Nicodem
1281371269
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Making glassware isn't really worth the effort IMO. The equipment, safety equipment, and raw materials are all expensive. It would take years of practice to be able to make something capable of carrying out any serious chemical processes.

What country are you in? There are lots of people who will be able to give recommendations regarding cheap companies to use, and you might be able to buy some reagents off of people on the forum (that's how I have obtained anything otherwise hard to get hold of).

There are certain things that are very easy to get from nature, e.g. Urea, Ethanol, NaCl, etc
DDbiology2010
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Well, I'm from the United States. I'm just really trying to be totally independent from society, cause it makes me feel free, and I feel knowing the knowledge of being independent is extremely important. For instance, I'm growing my own food, obtaining my own electricity, and built my own house. Now, I want to manufacture chemicals on my own, but I need the knowledge of creating pure reagents from minerals and elements just lying around outside somewhere. The glassware does take time to master, but you can become average in anything in a very short time period if you put your mind to it, and in my experience, average is usually sufficient enough to get the job done. Anyway, It looks like there needs to be some books on "starting from nothing" for a lot of subjects, cause people are way to dependent on others, which is okay. I've found books on starting a lab, but the books always start out by telling you to purchase this and that. The knowledge of going out and finding the material from primordial Earth and making this or that is what I want.

[Edited on 19-3-2010 by DDbiology2010]

[Edited on 19-3-2010 by DDbiology2010]
hissingnoise
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 Quote: For instance, I'm growing my own food, obtaining my own electricity, and built my own house. Now, I want to manufacture chemicals on my own, but I need the knowledge of creating pure reagents from minerals and elements just lying around outside somewhere.

I was wondering what an else was - but how you'll find the time to extract reagents from the environment given your current commitments is quite beyond me.
It's a commendable attitude, but working 24/7 will hardly be enough. . .

DDbiology2010
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Your right. The time required to do anything worth something is usually more than a lot. I'm thinking maybe I could figure out the reactions from reagents obtained naturally to products of pure elements. Then pure elements as reagents are pretty easy to use at figuring out other reactions. What do you think?
ninefingers
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Jules Verne describes his castaways in The Mysterious Island cooking pyrite (Iron Sulfate) ,water, and copper sulfate that they dug out of the soil. These distilled into S03 and H20; forming H2SO4. Then they cooked manatee fat into soap with wood ashes; leaving glycerin in the bottom of the pot. The Sulfuric acid and saltpeter from seagull dung made, of course, nitric acid for their nitroglycerin.

Also, burning sulfur with saltpeter produces sulfuric acid.

I dig old synths, too. I have a lot of bone meal (Calcium Phosphate et al) that I am going to calcine in a crucible to get Phosphorus, I hope.

[Edited on 3-20--10 by ninefingers]
hissingnoise
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It should be remembered that the early chemists were men of considerable means; they were able to devote practically all of their time to their science interests without distraction.

bbartlog
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Fundamentally, the kind of autarky you are describing is enormously labor-intensive, even if you are a highly skilled jack of all trades and polymath. And on top of that many compounds of interest are simply not going to exist in your backyard, e.g. if you are interested in bromine and bromides, you will probably find that even if you have the skill, time, and resources to do the extraction from kelp or other marine sources, you have no way of obtaining the raw material in quantity. Much as I sympathize with your goals I think you have to understand that even the alchemists had to rely on sponsors and medieval trade to obtain their feedstocks. Hennig Brandt had to get 6600 liters of urine and some sort of massy iron retort to make phosphorus, and you can bet he didn't refine the iron himself, nor likely make the vessel.
Nonetheless, if doing stuff yourself is more important than achieving a wide range, I would suggest some of the following:
- ethanol (fermentation and distillation)
- acetic acid (same... only different )
- soap
- nitrates via a medieval-style niter bed (maybe followed by black powder manufacture, if you can get sulfur...)
- citric acid via aspergillus niger culture
- various essential oil extractions, e.g. steam distillation of limonene, eugenol or what have you

 Quote: I'm thinking maybe I could figure out the reactions from reagents obtained naturally to products of pure elements. Then pure elements as reagents are pretty easy to use at figuring out other reactions

The analytical chemists of old spent a lot of effort isolating pure elements, but no, I don't think the approach you describe is generally applicable to making useful compounds. To begin with, a huge chunk of the elements are reactive enough that they are hard to isolate and store. All the halides and all the alkali metals fall into this category. Thus, supposing you have limestone, it is both very difficult to get elemental calcium from it, and it is also often unnecessary to do so if your goal is some calcium compound.
Second, in the case of organic compounds it makes more sense to try to have a supply of various small building blocks than it does to isolate elements. Having carbon, hydrogen and oxygen on hand gets you approximately nowhere in terms of organic synthesis. On the other hand, ethanol, methanol, acetic acid and acetone are all small molecules that are useful in organic chemistry and at least in principle capable of being manufactured at home.
watson.fawkes
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 Quote: Originally posted by bbartlog Fundamentally, the kind of autarky you are describing is enormously labor-intensive, even if you are a highly skilled jack of all trades and polymath. [...] Much as I sympathize with your goals I think you have to understand that even the alchemists had to rely on sponsors and medieval trade to obtain their feedstocks.
I think working through any kind of chemical infrastructure is an excellent exercise in learning just how interdependent people are with each other in creating something of this complexity.

As for the original poster, to get old-school in a serious way, you will need (1) a mine, (2) a forest, and (3) slave labor. That will get you 80-90% of the known chemistry up to about Paracelsus.
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If you live in an area wherein there are "Rocks & Minerals" shops you can get some pretty unique things. I live not far from a copper mine (several) and I have a few of these shops not far from me. I have found a very fine example or arsenic (display - type) and quite a bit of arsenic in usable form. I found many other things but where there is silver (Nevada) there is a great deal of silver oxide available. To purchase this is actually several hundred dollars per pound (technical grade) Cinnabar when "roasted" yields mercury (I have NOT tried this) but did get some samples. Volcanic conditions yield a great deal of sulfur in wonderful forms.
The "black crud" in much H2SO4 is from the anodizing industry & can be removed very easily. If you DO happen to live in an area where there is a great deal of mining acids are almost free. Same goes for plating companies that are small & struggling. They will sell off their HNO3 at their price (if they are not using it immediately) as they often have to order too much. They get this in a stainless steel drum that they must return at a date and NEED to get 2-4 gals of acid off their hands (no pun intended). This generally is $30 a gal for 70%. You are actually doing them a favor. Make friends with them and you'll have a supply for years. FIND a stainless steel drum (they are 30 gal and look very nice) in a closed down plating company and they will buy it from you for$100 faster than you can lug it off your truck.
Before Gold went through the roof it sold for market value in raw form (for display) or in very rough ingots that could have been someone's jewelry (which is very sad indeed). Silver is available at market prices unless it is in drawn wire form; which is generally 10% more. Fine pure silver wire when cut to small sections will react very quickly to 70% HNO3 to yield silver nitrate. A 500 gram jar of silver nitrate (or oxide) when bought through Alpha Asear or Spectrum will often cost more than \$400.

Most people have good reason for not wanting to go into small mines but I have peeked in and seen excellent examples of nitrates growing on rocks where there is organic material & moisture built up for a LONG time. You can find fantastic things in or near mines albeit there are serious dangers involved. The sample ore is often incredible. Gold is occasionally found in white hard quartz, examine anything that catches the eye in a color scheme (green, red, yellow, blue). Mines frequently (in areas where gold is hunted for) will have a substantial amount of lead in various oxide forms.

Copper mines frequently have a red surrounding soil & often have a great deal of Malachite scattered in the soil. IF you go where "wildcat mining is a practice; LOOK at the floor!!!! Too often the mine is a shaft going straight down! If you ever enter a mine; NEVER go alone! Mines in summer have snakes like spaghetti & surprise shafts going (again) straight DOWN. IF you do want to explore, tie a rope on your waist and to a partner, tell someone where you're going & when you expect to get back, take a vehicle that is reliable to a fault! And bring tools such as a large & small shovel, breaker bar, sharpened hammer, extended sledge hammer (a sledge hammer with a welded steel bar that's 5 ft long to bust big rocks) and enormous amounts of water, serious 1st aid stuff, & a Sat phone, if you can get one. - It's fun, so long as you don't think you're invincible.

[Edited on 19-3-2010 by quicksilver]
DDbiology2010
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I have a bunch of silver mines where I live. I think I'll start with making silver nitrate, and hey I could make some money to fund my activities by selling the silver nitrate crystals, and maybe make a mirror! Good idea, I looked on ebay and silver nitrate is selling for a lot a money!

Ya, I love those old recipes too.
IrC
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One of the best books is Henley's twentieth century forrmulas, recipes and processes. A free PDF of about 111 MB available below.

http://www.archive.org/details/henleystwentieth00hiscrich

There was a site with several dozen of these old books for free (all about making things you need in say 1890 or thereabouts). I have not been there for years and after 3 hours today I still am beyond hope of remembering who the hell they were, or where they are (what URL), or if they even exist still.

However if I wake up at 3 AM I will post it, I expect you to be up patiently waiting ....

Forgot to add the DjVu is only 38 MB if you are into that, I have both but for some reason I usually only look at it in PDF format. You can also browse it online in HTML.

[Edited on 3-19-2010 by IrC]

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts" Richard Feynman
JohnWW
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To download the DJVU version you have to use this URL, which is not linked from the web-page (which only allows it to be viewed online) given by IrC above:

http://ia331402.us.archive.org/1/items/henleystwentieth00his... 38.5 Mb

The PDF version can be downloaded directly from the link provided on that web-page, however:

http://www.archive.org/download/henleystwentieth00hiscrich/h... 111.0 Mb

The title is Henley's Twentieth Century Book Of Formulas, Recipes & Processes (1914).

[Edited on 20-3-10 by JohnWW]
agorot
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 Quote: Originally posted by DDbiology2010 The glassware does take time to master, but you can become average in anything in a very short time period if you put your mind to it, and in my experience, average is usually sufficient enough to get the job done.

I don't want to crush your spirits; in fact, I know exactly how you feel.

However, you could not pay me enough to use an "average" piece of glassware to make something like sulfuric acid as you mentioned previously.

I personally would love to help you with whatever I can, and I know may others on this forum would like to do the same, but honestly, until you have gotten some real lab expierience with high quality borosilicate glassware, it's just not worth it to try to use hommade glassware for most production experiments.

Sure, you could use a little glass bottle to act as a beaker, but don't heat that or it will shatter. Don't try to store something volatile in it with some plastic wrap on top because you will not hold that substance. Don't use the metal lid to store something corrosive. Don't store chemicals in the same building that you sleep in unless they are in bottles up to the task in chemical containment. Really, you can practice making borosilicate glass on the side, but don't use it. Buy it.
ninefingers
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Quote:
 Quote: Originally posted by DDbiology2010 Well, I'm from the United States. I'm just really trying to be totally independent from society, cause it makes me feel free, and I feel knowing the knowledge of being independent is extremely important. For instance, I'm growing my own food, obtaining my own electricity, and built my own house. Now, I want to manufacture chemicals on my own, but I need the knowledge of creating pure reagents from minerals and elements just lying around outside somewhere. The knowledge of going out and finding the material from primordial Earth and making this or that is what I want.

Cool!

I thought of this a few times. Splittin' to Montana or somewheres; not needing money except for a haircut now and then. I'd still need my lab and Ham radio; that would take a little juice but not much. A washing machine, too.

Please U2U me and tell me how You did it/how it goes?

IrC
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Quote: Originally posted by agorot
 Quote: Originally posted by DDbiology2010 The glassware does take time to master, but you can become average in anything in a very short time period if you put your mind to it, and in my experience, average is usually sufficient enough to get the job done.

I don't want to crush your spirits; in fact, I know exactly how you feel.

However, you could not pay me enough to use an "average" piece of glassware to make something like sulfuric acid as you mentioned previously.

I personally would love to help you with whatever I can, and I know may others on this forum would like to do the same, but honestly, until you have gotten some real lab expierience with high quality borosilicate glassware, it's just not worth it to try to use hommade glassware for most production experiments.

Sure, you could use a little glass bottle to act as a beaker, but don't heat that or it will shatter. Don't try to store something volatile in it with some plastic wrap on top because you will not hold that substance. Don't use the metal lid to store something corrosive. Don't store chemicals in the same building that you sleep in unless they are in bottles up to the task in chemical containment. Really, you can practice making borosilicate glass on the side, but don't use it. Buy it.

Don't take this the wrong way but it sounds like you think the guy is a complete idiot. Either that or you are way too fearful in chemistry. Or something. I am all for him, it is not that hard to make safe, decent glassware if you have somewhat of a gift in making things. Does the guy sound like he needs the metal lid/corrosive advice? I doubt it. I am sure he is capable of doing his acid production with hand crafted wares by simply building an enclosure with say decently thick plexiglass or Lexan for a door/window to completely contain any flying acid. At least this is how I would do it. Not getting on your case here but be real, the site is supposed to be about mad science performed by even madder people and baking soda volcanoes are not the rule here. I think you should tone down the paranoia a little. Hell I sleep in the same room with U238 and other than the extra arm with glowing eyes on the fingertips I have not noticed anything out of the ordinary in say the last decade or so.

Side note here but thanks John. I had the DjVu for years and could not find the CD I stored it on so today I fought that streaming crap for an hour finally giving up. Sometimes it is easier (at least quicker) for me to D/L a thing again. Just for the sake of future finding things how did you arrive at the link meaning if I wanted something else how would I find the direct D/L link like the one you posted?

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts" Richard Feynman
ninefingers
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Get the Improvised Munitions Handbook. It describes heating a bottle in sand in a tin can over a fire, and taped to another bottle to distill HNO3; and other ways of making things with little/no professional glassware. The distilling is done outside, so if something breaks you can just Run.
not_important
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 Quote: simply building an enclosure with say decently thick plexiglass or Lexan

Obtained from a handy Lexan outcropping or mine, I assume.

Until a bit into the 19th century much chemistry was done in the same sort of vessels as used in the kitchen, and for awhile later with chemical glassware of ordinary or hard glass that suffered the same thermal expansion and shock problems. Old books not infrequently mention slow careful heating, or the frustration of breakage of flasks and beakers. Using such glassware does mean taking more care, but sustained research in chemistry and physics until the end of the 19th century.

So it is quite possible to make your own glassware, but getting the uniformity of the glass and defect-free objects from it is not easy, there a good deal of skill to it. I will also note that glassblowers often suffered from diseases of the respiratory system brought on by their occupation, something else that is a part of using the old ways.

 Quote: I'm just really trying to be totally independent from society, cause it makes me feel free, and I feel knowing the knowledge of being independent is extremely important. For instance, I'm growing my own food, obtaining my own electricity, and built my own house.

So you made your own generator by mining and smelting copper and iron, drawing wire, making insulation from plant fibers and resins? Made your own woodworking tools from the same iron ore, I assume. Else you're hardly totally independent from society because you're using products of a enormous and complexly intertwined global social-industrial structure, one that you must deal with should you every need to replace some product derived from it (your computer, say). Thomas Jefferson ran into this problem, his life as a independent yeoman farmer required frequent infusion of products of urban industry and not uncommonly of evil European manufacture.

IrC
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"Obtained from a handy Lexan outcropping or mine, I assume."

Ok not_important I see your point and that was funny but I see no reason to take everything as oscillations between extremes here. The guy did not say he was on Gilligan's Island so be reasonable. I am quite sure he is not talking to us on his coconut magnaphone, or is he I wonder? I assumed he meant he wanted to make everything possible the old way meaning using coconuts but finding wire from the radios of old washed up ship wrecks. I will take your challenge however. He found an outcrop of mica, and after making a thin blade from his dead mastadon tooth he spent years carefully peeling off a really nice big window of pure mica to replace the lexan mine he looked for but failed to locate.

Or something like that.

However now I'm pissed. I cannot get that stupid song out of my head. A three hour tour? If not for the courage of the fearless crew the Minnow would be lost....

I'll have you know Ginger might have been somewhat OK but I was always in love with Mary Ann.

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts" Richard Feynman
agorot
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Quote: Originally posted by IrC
Quote: Originally posted by agorot
 Quote: Originally posted by DDbiology2010 The glassware does take time to master, but you can become average in anything in a very short time period if you put your mind to it, and in my experience, average is usually sufficient enough to get the job done.

I don't want to crush your spirits; in fact, I know exactly how you feel.

However, you could not pay me enough to use an "average" piece of glassware to make something like sulfuric acid as you mentioned previously.

I personally would love to help you with whatever I can, and I know may others on this forum would like to do the same, but honestly, until you have gotten some real lab expierience with high quality borosilicate glassware, it's just not worth it to try to use hommade glassware for most production experiments.

Sure, you could use a little glass bottle to act as a beaker, but don't heat that or it will shatter. Don't try to store something volatile in it with some plastic wrap on top because you will not hold that substance. Don't use the metal lid to store something corrosive. Don't store chemicals in the same building that you sleep in unless they are in bottles up to the task in chemical containment. Really, you can practice making borosilicate glass on the side, but don't use it. Buy it.

Don't take this the wrong way but it sounds like you think the guy is a complete idiot. Either that or you are way too fearful in chemistry. Or something. I am all for him, it is not that hard to make safe, decent glassware if you have somewhat of a gift in making things. Does the guy sound like he needs the metal lid/corrosive advice? I doubt it. I am sure he is capable of doing his acid production with hand crafted wares by simply building an enclosure with say decently thick plexiglass or Lexan for a door/window to completely contain any flying acid. At least this is how I would do it. Not getting on your case here but be real, the site is supposed to be about mad science performed by even madder people and baking soda volcanoes are not the rule here. I think you should tone down the paranoia a little. Hell I sleep in the same room with U238 and other than the extra arm with glowing eyes on the fingertips I have not noticed anything out of the ordinary in say the last decade or so.

Sorry, you're right that I did seem a little condescending.

I just remember back about a year and a half ago when I was trying to make sulfuric acid myself. Bad things happened. Basically I tried to cool a bottle too quickly and it exploded, sending hot conc. acid all over me. Luckily I was wearing goggles, an apron, a long sleeved shirt, sweatpants, and gloves so I didn't actually get any of the acid on me! It was a miracle.

The reason I was such a fearmonger was because of that incident. I was traumatized.

Like I said above, and this still stands, I'm happy to help with whatever I can. I think we are all learners here to some degree or another, and I didn't mean to sound snotty.

[Edited on 20-3-2010 by agorot]
IrC
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I was not really jumping on you it is the way I talk all the time so do not be worried. If I had a reason to be angry it would be at not_important for making that stupid Gilligan's Island song to still be stuck in my brain.

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts" Richard Feynman
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